With almost 100,000 students across four Universities, Manchester is one of the most culturally diverse places in the UK. Jewish Society (JSoc) president and third year criminology and psychology student Hedva Engle is one of the students at the forefront of uniting different people, breaking down stereotypes, and working to educate people about the range of cultures in the city.
“When I came to uni, I always assumed I’d be part of JSoc. For Jews, community is just a way of life and I’ve always liked to be involved with things, so it was natural for me to get involved with societies — but it’s also common for anyone Jewish to use assume they’ll be part of the community, even if they’re not religious.”
With four Universities in Greater Manchester, it offers a unique chance to connect with faith societies from all over the city. “We have good connections with the University of Manchester and Salford University, so a lot of the events we put on we do together. It’s great to have a representative space where we can just do our own thing or represent ourselves to the Uni. We even have lunch together every Tuesday — our chaplain brings Kosher food we sit and just spend some time together.”
“It’s not like you have to be really religious to be involved either. There are lots of students who are irreligious but it’s the culture brings us all together.” Identifying with a religion or being joining a society doesn’t mean you fit into a specific box, “there are levels to everything and everyone is different — for example, some people don’t drink, some drink but don’t go to environments like clubs, some love clubbing.”
As well as volunteering on the JSoc committee, Hedva works as one of the empowerment officers for the arts and humanities department. These officers help to change perspectives and break down stereotypes for different groups, “I’m involved with lots of events and religion-based activities. We put on a cultural food fair last year with some societies. We had a kosher food table, Korean food — all sorts. It was a great opportunity to introduce people to different religion-based and nationality-based cultures. It creates a platform for people to ask questions that they wouldn’t normally like: ‘how are kosher and halal food different?’”
These events also a chance to raise awareness of the things that the ambassadors and societies are working on. “People are always shocked when you tell them things like, ‘did you know there’s no Kosher food on campus?’ or chat about the political issues around your faith.” Educating on each other’s culture is an essential step in creating change and building support for projects. “Over the next year, I want to work to create an environment that’s not just inclusive, but that’s also encouraging for us to take on issues that we care about.”
"Advice to new students? I'd say definitely join your faith society even if you’re not religious. You don’t have to practice the religion to go — but it’s a way of expressing your identity and culture. I’d also encourage you to be open about your religion. You’d be surprised by how much people respect it and how understanding the University and lecturers are."